12 January 2011

Chile hopes to be included in US Visa Waiver Program

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Chile may soon join 36 countries in the US Visa Waiver Program, becoming the first South American country to do so.

ESTA

Chile may soon enter the US Visa Waiver Program if the country can meet requirements.

The program which enables foreigner travellers to enter the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands for up to 90 days using only the online ESTA system, rather than the more lengthy US Tourist Visa process.

Currently, Chileans must have an interview with a US consular official at the US Embassy in Santiago and the wait for such an interview can take up to two months. In contrast the ESTA can be applied for online and is approved for the majority within 72 hours.

Entering the US Visa Waiver Program requires Chile meets a number of standards, including a low level of visa refusals and strong passport and identity checks.

Arturo Fermandois, the Chilean ambassador to Washington, said Chile would also have to share information on criminals and terrorists within its borders.

However, a major barrier to the inclusion of Chile into the US Visa Waiver program is the level of US Visa refusals. The US requires a country have a less than 3 per cent US Visa refusal rate before they can be included in the program.

While Chile’s rate has fallen considerably from 9 per cent in 2008 to 5.9 per cent in 2009, and 5 per cent last year, it still may be another two years before the country will reach 2.9 per cent refusal rate.

Ambassador Fermandois has said he hopes to achieve this goal “with a public information campaign . . . that creates awareness of the responsibility involved in asking for a visa.”


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